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The Real deal for Mac OS X?

RealNetworks releases its RealOne player for the Mac operating system. But to use a Real jukebox or play QuickTime files, Mac fans will have to wait another several months at least.

Macintosh users are finally getting a finished version of RealNetworks' streaming media player, but they will have to wait at least another several months to rip a CD or play QuickTime files through the software like their Windows counterparts.

RealNetworks on Monday launched its RealOne player for Apple Computer's Mac OS X, following test versions of the software that came out in July and August. RealOne for Windows, by contrast, came out in its final, or "gold," edition in March, with a follow-up release in September.

In addition to having waited longer for the release, Mac users will find their options significantly more limited than those of their Windows counterparts.

While Windows customers can pay for a premium service that lets them play back Windows Media Player files and Apple QuickTime files through their RealOne player, Mac users will have to wait for a future release for that cross-platform option.

Mac users of RealOne will also have to wait--perhaps indefinitely--for features that come standard with RealOne for Windows. These include the RealNetworks Jukebox software for organizing music titles, support for portable devices, and a ripping engine.

RealNetworks blamed the Mac release's delay and the absence of these additional features on the difficulty of writing the OS X-based application from scratch--particularly as the introduction of Mac OS 10.2, the so-called Jaguar release, complicated programming efforts midway through the player's development.

"We made a strategic decision to get our OS X player to market as soon as we could," said Ryc Brownrigg, general manager for consumer software at RealNetworks. "We decided our first version would be a player that would support our subscription services."

Support for those subscription services is key to RealNetworks' new revenue model. For the third fiscal quarter, results of which were released in October, the company saw its software license fees plummet to $15.6 million from $26.8 million a year prior. But the company's subscription revenue for its consumer products went up to $28.2 million in the quarter from $16 million the prior year.

RealNetworks offers an array of paid and free software and services--and the offerings depend on which OS a customer's computer runs.

Freely available for both Windows and the Mac is the RealOne player, which plays RealAudio and RealVideo files. Windows users can purchase the RealOne Player Plus for $19.95, which lets them play Windows Media and QuickTime files, in addition to providing more playback controls.

There is no "plus" version now available for the Mac.

Users of both operating systems can subscribe to SuperPass, a content subscription service that costs $9.95 per month to view sporting events, other entertainment and news. The radio subscription RadioPass is available for a 14-day free trial and costs $5.95 per month for people who don't cancel their subscriptions.

RealNetworks said it was working on fleshing out its Mac OS X offering but declined to say when the various features would be available. Some features may never make it into the Mac version. For example, citing the popularity and quality of Apple's iTunes software, the company said it may decide that RealOne for the Mac ultimately has no need of a RealNetworks Jukebox.

RealNetworks bases its RealOne releases on the software under open-source development with its Helix development group, established this year. The software itself is cross-platform, but the user interface, subscription controls, and other bells and whistles have to be engineered separately for every OS.

The new software for the Mac is available for free download from the RealNetworks site.